Ethiopian immigrants 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Israeli government is failing to adequately assist and support the thousands
of Ethiopian Jews currently waiting in the city of Gondar to make aliya and is
not properly preparing itself for the absorption of this group of immigrants,
leaders of the Ethiopian community here and representatives of non-profits
working in Ethiopia said this week.
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Speaking in the Knesset Committee for
Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs on Monday, those working closely
with Ethiopian aliya pointed out that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was
supposed to have obtained the relevant permits from the Ethiopian government to
enable the Jewish Agency for Israel to act as its operative in Gondar, where
some 8,000 Falash Mura (Ethiopians of Jewish descent) are in the process of
being approved for immigration to Israel.
While the Jewish Agency is
already working informally to help those waiting in an administrative center in
the city, set up over the last decade by the North American Conference on
Ethiopian Jews (NACOEJ), it is not doing enough to meet all the needs of those
who have already been approved but are still waiting for a flight date, leaders
“A lot is being done for those waiting in Gondar but it is not
enough,” said Dr. Avraham Neguise, executive director of the non-profit
organization South Wing to Zion, a grassroots group that has been lobbying the
government to allow the Falash Mura to immigrate to Israel.
He said the
fact that the Jewish Agency has no formal permit from the Ethiopian government
to operate in the administrative center is a “disaster” for those people still
waiting to make aliya.
“Once the people arrive here they get all the help
they need from the Israeli government but the real problem is that the Jewish
Agency cannot give them full assistance while they wait to make aliya,” Neguise
told The Jerusalem Post
“The Jewish Agency needs this permission so that
it can formally take over running the compound in Gondar from NACOEJ, like the
government said it would do last November.”
“The Jewish Agency was
supposed to have received the permission last March but we are now in June and
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has done nothing,” commented Ethiopian-Israeli
Member of Knesset Shlomo Molla (Kadima). “It is very problematic.”
written response, the Foreign Ministry said it had received oral confirmation
from the Ethiopian government that two Jewish Agency employees could work as
part of official diplomatic operations based out of Addis Ababa. Both employees,
said the Foreign Ministry, were already listed as Israeli diplomats in
“Throughout the years, the MFA [Foreign Ministry] has helped
JAFI staff wherever they operate in the world and will continue to do so,
especially in Ethiopia,” read the response.
Sources from within NACOEJ,
however, pointed out that Ambassador to Ethiopia, Oded Ben-Haim said as recently
as two months ago he was still waiting for instructions on the matter from the
In addition to obstacles facing those still in
Ethiopia, local leaders here say preparations for continued absorption of the
immigrants have been very slow to progress. At Monday’s Knesset meeting on the
matter, they expressed anger over the failure of an interministerial committee
created to address a potential housing shortage within the next six
Under the November decision, between 200 and 300 Ethiopian
immigrants have been arriving here each month but with a slow absorption process
and little emphasis on moving the immigrants from Jewish Agency-run absorption
centers into permanent housing, spaces have not opened up to house the newest
batch of immigrants.
In the Knesset hearing on Monday, committee chairman
Danny Danon (Likud) criticized the Treasury, which heads the interministerial
committee, for this failure and heard about a vague plan to house new immigrants
in rented apartments for an interim period before they are provided with
government mortgage subsidies to purchase permanent housing.
“This is not
a serious idea,” dismissed Molla. “We just hope that this failure by the Finance
Ministry will not cause the flow of immigrants from Ethiopia to slow down and I
urge the relevant authorities to open two or three more absorption centers until
this problem is solved.”
Dr. Neguise added that by 2012, there will be no
more spaces available in already existing absorption centers and that the idea
to move more veteran immigrants to rented accommodation would be disastrous as
well as expensive.
“No one will agree to this,” he said. “I don’t know
why the government cannot either increase the mortgage for Ethiopian immigrants
so they can buy their own houses, or open some more absorption
In the meeting, the Finance Ministry said it was still
formulating its recommendations and had until the beginning of next year to come
up with alternative options.